Made-in-China: Quality and cultural divergences

Made in China”, is commonly believed to have a negative connotation. For most people entering into business relationships with Chinese companiesthere are many questions that lead to anxiety: How can I ensure the quality of my products? Can I trust my suppliers? Can I trust the result of the inspections? It can be stated that in manufacturing Quality refers to the ability of the final productto meet the initial specifications.   You are able to measure Quality through an inspection.  Inspections are a repeatable and accurate measurement of the level of conformity. Indeed, the communication, and therefore the cultural divergence will have a huge impact on its result. Ignoring this fact has always lead to extra difficulty and frustration for Western managers or customers when having to face the Quality issue in China. The main risk is in what is called in literature the “Directive Lure”. Here is an example:
A Western manager makes his daily tour in his China factory with Jack- the local Chinese staff member responsible for the workshop.  While passing by the office aside the production line, Jack noticed a leakage in the ceiling with some water dropping on the computer desk.
Manager:Jack, you need to fix this immediately. It is a huge risk for the computer and the safety of the people!
Jack: OK. No problem.
5 minutes later the manager pass by the same place and notices that there is an umbrella above the computer! The leakage is still there, the water drop, the computer is protected!
Manager – Jack, what is this ?
Jack – This is to protect the computer, like this there is no more risk.
Manager – Are you kidding me?… it’s not serious, you should close the water supply at least to stop the leakage.
Jack – Ok .I see. Sorry.
5 minutes later, the manager pass by the production line and it has stopped. Checking the situation, it appears that they don’t have any more water. The manager calls Jack.
Manager – what is going on ?
Jack – we shut down the water as you said, but the line cannot work any more…
Manager – then open the water, and find a way to stop the leakage, I don’t know, place some tape on the pipe, ….
Jack – OK. we will do this.
I can continue this story indefinitely, the relation is entering in a endless circle : the Directive Management Lure.
I’ll let you guess where is the Chinese employee and where is the western manager in this circle.
This circle could occur in any situation and when it happens in Quality inspection, it creates huge problem. Your inspector will only do as it has been told or as the directives ask him to.
– Think about the specifications : Are they always complete?  Are they always accurate ? In all my experience I have never met perfect specifications, there were always some errors or missing information.
When entering this circle, your inspector will only focus on what is written, what is asked and therefore ignore all the rest. If it is not in the drawing, on the specs, then it is simply not taken in account. The main reaction I’ve seen from western manager or customer : “where is their common sense?”
– Think about all the inspections that have to be done, can we anticipate any situation that will occur in a factory? Absolutely not, that’s why there is inspection.  If your team is unable of showing initiative, then what’s the point in sending them over there! The main reaction : “OK you tell me we cannot ship, but then what do we do? What is the solution you propose?”
The result, most of the time, is that trust is lost, toward the supplier, the team, and the end product.
The  first step is an inappropriate attitude from Chinese culture approach of the relation Vs the Western expectation,.
The second step is an inappropriate answer and attitude from the Western culture approach Vs the Chinese mindset.
The majority of Chinese have no exposure to The West until they join a western company, there is no way for them to understand the culturaldifferences that they will have to face. Even if the cinema is spreading more and more and carrying with it some “western phantasm” (the super boss omniscient and omnipotent), the reality is far different.
Any training on working method or tools needs to integrate a clear link between the western cultural basis and expectation that makes this method/tools efficient from a western perspective. This approach is the cost necessary in order to go beyond the step 1 and 2 : transmitting sense and not only techniques, transmitting the full picture demonstrating why this method is suitable for Westerner, what makes it different from Chinese traditional way of acting.
Any training has to be fine tuned on the level of detail and formalization transmitted: too many details and you end up with a pure mechanical team that will lose its “common sense”. Too few and you will end up with as many solutions as you have team members and therefore you can say goodbye to repeatability and accuracy.
Remember this moment in the movie “7 Years in Tibet” : the Tibetans get a pair ofice skates.  They call them “white man’s knife” and use them to cut meat with their feet, as they assume the white men were doing. Their comment was to say: “you white men are so strange and stupid, where is your common sense to cut meat with the feet!” Then the white man shows them how to use them on the ice for skating, and then their reaction is to say :“what it is useful for?” From their point of view no sense in their life style for such unproductive activity.
In China like everywhere else, you will find both reliable and unreliable people, there are honest and dishonest people, and the huge majority are honest and reliable that know what is expected of them.   Clear and well communicated expectations are necessary to avoid ending up with frustration, deception and anger. There is no higher risk in China than anywhere else,we simply need a systematic approach to adjust the way we communicate.
About the Author
Hubert Delelis is Material Science Engineer with 20 years experience at a MNC Decathlon – OXYLANE Group, 12 years of which as a General Manager of business units in Shanghai, Taiwan and Shenzhen. Mr. Delelis is also the founder of AKA Outspring, a company that focuses on operational and management trainings for Chinese middle managers.
Mr. Delelis has a broad knowledge on managing technical (production, quality, supply chain) and service departments (IT, finance, HR), using international management methods and standards such as delegation, empowerment, lean, participative management and others. He has recruited and trained hundreds of Chinese team members and successfully promoted local middle managers.
In his previous experience, he created a multinational team of experts who delivered technical trainings and expertise all over the world.
Led by his passion on human development and human management, he is now sharing and transmitting his experience through AKA Outspring™.
Mr. Delelis has successfully developed and adapted training and coaching methods to boost local teams’ efficiency and autonomy.
His training are based on 2 principles :
ONE: Using Chinese traditional Cultural levers to render the training more efficient
  • Game oriented : use the attraction of game for Chinese,
  • Social link : because of interactivity, create a specific “link” with the trainee to generate trust and involvement,
  • Demonstrated efficiency : show that it works to enhance acceptation of the new method teach.
TWO: “Hands on” training contents to boost the Return on Investment
  • All trainings are based on placing the trainee in a real situation where he will have to perform the method,
  • All training are adjusted to fit the specific need of the customer (we create the situation required),
  • All training integrate the Western cultural approach to give Chinese team members the key of a better understanding of customer and/or manager expectations.
Held in his unique and exclusive Operational Training Center or in house, AKA Outspring™ provides more than 25 trainings topics.
Know more by visiting their website ( or contacting them
Because Human Resource is the core asset of a company, team autonomy is the ultimate means for efficiency and sustainability.

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